Q: How serious is the sea mine threat facing U.S. and International Navies?
A: Sea mines pose a major threat to U.S. and international Navies. They are relatively inexpensive to produce, rapidly increasing in sophistication and easy to deploy. It is estimated that there are more than 250,000 mines in the inventories of at least 50 navies. In addition to disrupting naval operations, mines threaten safety in key shipping straits and busy harbors around the world.
Q: What does the Mine Countermeasure Mission involve?
A: The MCM mission is clear: rapidly identify and neutralize mines at sea to protect the surface fleet and critical assets. The path forward can be found in a transformative concept called “Single Sortie Detect-to-Engage.” SSDTE combines the search-detect-identify and neutralize elements of a mine countermeasure mission on a single platform executing a single outing, or sortie, so mine detection and neutralization can be conducted in a single pass of an area. What currently takes weeks or months could be done in a matter of days or hours.
Q: Can you explain how a single sortie would work?
A: An unmanned surface vehicle launches from a Littoral Combat Ship. In tow is a sophisticated sonar that can spot mines from any angles, and in high definition. The towed pod, known as AN/AQS-20, incorporates four separate sonars in a compact and lightweight body. It uses advanced imaging sonars, signal processing and computer algorithms to provide real-time, computer-aided detection and classification against the full spectrum of mines. In other words, it pinpoints mine-like objects and provides a visual image.
If an object is determined to be a mine, a number of actions are available, including detonation. This could be done with an innovative mine-neutralization system called Barracuda.
The Barracuda is a semi-autonomous, unmanned, underwater vehicle that identifies and destroys near-surface, volume and bottom sea mines. It can operate in shallow water, using an expendable, modular neutralizer with a kill mechanism, propulsion, sensors and communications buoy, which transmits wirelessly back to the host ship. Initially, it will be launched from an unmanned surface vessel operating from the Littoral Combat Ship, but in the future could be launched from almost any platform with an A-sized sonobuoy launcher.
Q: What does the future hold for the MCM mission?
A: Looking forward, Raytheon will continue investing in autonomous single sortie technology leveraging recent test and demonstration results. This will include further enhancements to search and neutralization through machine learning.
(Answers by Randy Brandenburg, Business Development Executive for Raytheon’s SeaPower Business.)